you transfix me quite

I finally saw the new Jane Eyre movie last night and while I wasn’t quite swept away by it (the story is just a bit too sad and while everyone seems to like the changed around beginning, where Jane is running away from Thornfield first and then remembers her earlier life later, I found having the story folded in on itself like that didn’t allow the emotion of the narrative to develop as strongly) but it still is quite good. I didn’t think I would say it, but most of the actors are better in this version than in the 2006 Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson BBC miniseries. (Insert shock.)

Mia Wasikowska is the perfect ‘poor, plain and little’ Jane Eyre and she has a stillness, dignity and grace to her that is quite nice to watch. The girl who plays young Jane Eyre (Amelia Clarkson) also has these qualities too and is far better than Georgie Henley from the miniseries (she’s also played Lucy in the Narnia movies and is better there) in the role. Her scene with Aunt Reed (Sally Hawkins is quite chilling in this role, especially in contrast with her portrayal of Anne Elliott in Persuasion!), where she tells her that she’s treating Jane badly is so well done — contrary to the book and previous versions where she just gets mad at her, this young Jane actually seems to plead with her aunt for love, for compassion. She’s so delicate, her scene with John Reed and then in the red room, is very well done and heartrending. I wish the movie had begun with her and gone forward from there, it’s quite dramatic enough and would have built better emotionally by going straight forward instead of confusing viewers with so much back and forth, I think.

I also thought Judi Dench was good as Mrs. Fairfax — at first it seems, oh Judi again, just here to prop up yet another period drama (I didn’t really like her portrayal of Lady Catherine in Pride & Prejudice, it didn’t seem to add anything special), but near the end she tells Jane she would have cared for her and that was the only time I cried in the whole movie. Of course it’s not in the book, but it should have been! It shows her as this kind motherly figure that Jane’s never had. (And maybe I was partly touched because she reminded me a little of her role as Miss Matty in Cranford and I just adore Miss Matty. These simple sweet older women that people take for granted, but oh how I wish I had a grannie like that!) I also liked the young actress playing Adele — at first I thought they’d gotten the same girl who played the young Jane Eyre! Which would have added a whole other interesting layer, as to why Jane is so kind to Adele, although it is in the book that she pities her because of her own childhood. She’s also not as obnoxious as the miniseries Adele.

And finally Michael Fassbender as Rochester. I was a fan of Toby Stephens before he was in the miniseries, back when no one thought he’d make a good Rochester, so I did quite enjoy him in the role, but Michael Fassbender just seemed gentler and less arrogant than Toby’s Rochester. I know book Rochester is quite arrogant etc, but that is part of my problem with him! So I do like Fassbender in the role quite a lot too. I thought his sideburns looked unattractive in the pictures and that he was too skinny for the part (Rochester is described as rather deep chested or something like that, isn’t he?), but somehow it all worked. It was his eyes and sincerity that brought it all together and his final appearance as the ruined Rochester was quite tragic. I would definitely have liked more scenes with Jane and Rochester, the story seemed so taken up with checking off all the other plot boxes that there wasn’t nearly enough of them, especially for a story that’s supposed to be one of the great romances. Again, if there wasn’t so much time with the Rivers family in the movie there could have been more Rochester! (Although I’m rather glad there was less of the humiliating Blanche Ingram and basically no Grace Poole too, I’m always irritated with why she’s in the story, misleading Jane.)

I liked the atmosphere built in the movie, showing through the barren and lonely landscape how few options there are for Jane, trapped in these large country houses and schools out in the middle of nowhere. And I loved her speech where she says she longs to be a man to go further and see beyond the horizon of the hills that is all they can see from the windows of Thornfield. It shows a spirit in her that goes beyond the simple romance of the story and explains why she’s happy being a simple schoolteacher with the Rivers, having her own independence.

I saw the movie with my husband (he was actually more concerned with me getting to see it in the theatre than I was, since I haven’t been feeling in the mood for a depressing Victorian story lately, but this was the last week for seeing it in the closest movie theatre to us, about an hour away, so it ended up being good to go) and we had a great discussion about it in the car on the way home. He thinks we’re a bit like Jane and Rochester — I’m quiet and compassionate and was abused as a child, while he often feels quite cynical about life due to his own difficult past — aww. We also had an instant connection of understanding due to the things we’ve both been through, just like the two of them do. So I’m quite glad I got to see it with him (I’d wanted to see it with my sister since we both like the book, but it just didn’t work out.), even though when I got home, I looked at the book, found it too sad and intense and went back to the much happier Anne of Green Gables (both Anne and Jane are orphans with sad pasts though), which I’m loving immensely. I haven’t reread it in decades!

11 thoughts on “you transfix me quite

  1. Darlene says:

    What a lovely review of the movie, Carolyn.

    My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed it as well but my favourite version is still the one with Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds. It just felt more gothic and earthy to me.

    Mia and Amelia were both riveting to watch and I covet that knit shawl that Jane wore quite a bit!

  2. wereadtoknow says:

    What a great – and thorough – film review! Unfortunately, living in the middle of a red state in the middle of the country means that this Jane Eyre hasn't hit any local theatres, but I heard rumblings about it and wanted despreately to see it! I wasn't a huge fan of the BBC miniseries, but this sounds like a much better retelling so I'm hoping to get my hands on it soon. Thanks for the great review!

  3. litlove says:

    Lovely review – I am ashamed to say I have never read Jane Eyre or even watched a movie/dramatisation of it! You'd think I'd been living under a rock…. Somehow I think of it as a depressing book. This is probably ridiculous and I should read it immediately to set the record straight. Perhaps I will read it over summer. (I've never read Hamlet or seen it on the stage either -the gaps in my reading!).

  4. galant says:

    I don't know where I've been, but I didn't even know there was a new Jane Eyre movie. Not that I'd bother watching, it's not my favourite story, I find the book depressing and how can one admire Rochester, having married a woman and then cast her to the attic and then decided he'd have another shot at marriage with naive Jane? My first encounter with the celluloid version of Jane and Rochester was in the 1950s when it was serialised in b&w on television, with Stanley Baker as Rochester (perhaps best known for his part in Zulu.) But I'm not the best person to judge this book or film, as I'm not a Bronte fan.
    Margaret P

  5. Danielle says:

    I think this is one I'll wait to see when it comes to DVD but I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it. It seems I had read a few less than glowing things about it, but it's always so hard to tell as everyone's tastes are so different! I love you new blog by the way….sorry I'm a little tardy finding my way here, but I've got links all sorted out again! πŸ™‚

  6. svh2 says:

    Thank you for such a great review! πŸ™‚ It was only this afternoon that I was saying to John that I'd love to see this film when it comes to Scotland, having first heard about it on Rachel's blog. At last my daughter is reading the book, after forcing herself to get through the desperately sad childhod bit. Once she's finished it, all four of us will have read and enjoyed it.

    I liked the Ruth Wilson/Toby Stephens version very much, but this sounds a great one too.


  7. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone! I hope those of you who want to see the movie will get to eventually, I do wish more period dramas were made and got wider releases!

    Darlene, I liked Jane's knit shawl too.

    Litlove, what?? No Jane Eyre, no Hamlet!? You'd get so much of psychological interest out of them though! πŸ˜‰

    Margaret, I don't admire Rochester's behaviour at all, but I can't help cheering for Jane and I do find their story touching.

    Danielle, so nice to see you here. πŸ™‚

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